Missing hiker’s gear provides clues about possible movements

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WARNER SPRINGS, Calif. — Authorities stepped up their search for missing hiker Chris Sylvia Thursday morning.

Sylvia, 28, went missing while backpacking in the East County wilderness east of Palomar Mountain.

With a storm rolling in, San Diego County Sheriff’s Department Sgt. Don Parker said they had to find him Thursday or before Friday evening.

“After Friday night, it’s going to start training, fog is going to come in, then snow, because we’re at 5,100 feet right now,” Parker said.

More than 30 volunteers donated their time and skill to assist in the search Thursday from various San Diego agencies, including people from Los Angeles, San Bernardino, Riverside and Orange counties.

Sylvia was reported missing Tuesday after he failed to arrive as planned at his final destination of Campo, according to sheriff’s officials. Other hikers subsequently found his identification and some hiking gear believed to belong to him about 12 miles off state Route 79, north of Warner Springs.

The clues help because though search efforts require a lot of skill, volunteers also rely on a lot of guesswork.

“It’s all assumption. It’s all a guess. It’s the best guess is to say he dropped his gear because he wanted to spend the night in a nice little spot, then said, he wants to make a phone call. It’s not hard to get to that hill up there,” Parker said as he pointed to a nearby hill.

But the problem is there are many hills, ditches, thick brush and mountain lions. There are many variables coming into play as each minute of the search goes on.

Despite the fact that Sylvia hadn’t been heard from in 10 days, Parker said the teams are hopeful he’s alive.

“We’re always hopeful,” he said.

They aren’t crossing any locations off their list. In some cases, they’re double checking the same spots because the brush is so thick. They know Sylvia told his friend he was close to his destination, but how close is “close”?

“Close is a relative term. If you’ve just hiked 20 miles, close might be four miles,” Parker said.

Sylvia, an experienced outdoorsman, started his hike in the Anza-Borrego area Feb. 12.

Search-and-rescue personnel resumed looking for Sylvia — described as a 5-foot-8-inch, roughly 155-pound white man with brown hair and hazel eyes — at daybreak Thursday morning. Assisting deputies in the effort were Border Patrol agents and the Civil Air Patrol.

The San Diego County Sheriff’s Department called off the search shortly after nightfall Thursday, with plans to resume efforts Friday morning.

Parker said there is a possibility Sylvia hitchhiked his way back into town and may not know there is a lot of work going into finding him, so he urged anyone who may recognize his photo to call the San Diego County Sheriff’s Department at 858-565-5200.


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